The Android Market, Google's version of Apple's App Store, "is an open service" that lets developers publish their apps for users to download. In contrast to the App Store's restrictive terms and review processes, the Android Market lets app developers publish apps instantly, without waiting for anyone's permission.
Every now and then, though, Google does pull an app from the Market after the fact. And while these "rejections" aren't as numerous as Apple's, nor as controversial as the time Apple rejected progressive political cartoons from the App Store, they do happen. Here are just a few examples:
The official app for the streaming music service Grooveshark was pulled from the Android Market just this month. Unlike the unofficial Spotify client that was semi-voluntarily removed in 2009, the Grooveshark one was the original, and had been on the Market for a year and a half before being removed without warning by Google.
Why the sudden change? Grooveshark's reps say they were "surprised by Google's removal of the Grooveshark App from the Android Market Place [sic], and are still unclear as to what policies have now been violated." So in other words, they have no idea, and weren't given a real explanation by Google.
Mashable writer Brenna Ehrlich suggests that Google may have done it as a concession to the record labels, which it's been negotiating with to get its own streaming music service off the ground. It might not be too far-fetched to think Google did it to remove competition, though, seeing as how the "Don't be evil" company may have forced breaches of contract to get its own mapping services onto Motorola devices.
The popular Flash game Pokemon Tower Defense had an Android version, but it was pulled from the Android Market in short order. It's just one of many, many games, apps and wallpapers on the Market that use copyrighted characters without permission, but unlike them it became wildly popular, which may have led to its getting noticed.
Speaking of making animals fight for you, "Dog Wars" was also pulled, after an outcry from the Humane Society and from former dogfighter Michael Vick. A commenter accused Google of hypocrisy, when there are other games about having humans fight each other, but I suspect most of those are a little less likely to encourage real-world human (or animal) cruelty.
Google pulled a whole slew of Android apps from the market, after the "Mother of All Android Malware" attacked earlier this year. Like with Dog Wars, though, this is something even its critics might cheer ... and unlike with the rest of these app removals, this one was accompanied by a blog post on Google's Mobile blog.
Open or closed?
For the most part, the Android Market lives up to its promise of being an "open" marketplace, and even protects users from malware despite its openness. It does so not because of laws which protect its users and developers, though, but because of Google corporate policy, which can change at any time.
When Google does exercise its power to remove apps that it doesn't like, users and developers have no recourse and no one to appeal to ... sometimes not even the media, since people aren't watching the Market for controversial rejection stories as closely as they watch the App Store.
After all, the Market is "open." Especially compared to its competition.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.